THE July 2016 decision by premier Mike Baird to ban greyhound racing on the back of a shocking report he’d commissioned from former high court judge Michael McHugh was both a high point and a low point of his career as a politician.
At the time, it was viewed by many as a principled decision to shut down an industry that could no longer be morally justified on animal cruelty grounds. Yet just three months later, with his popularity plummeting, a badly weakened premier announced a backflip, saying that while his personal beliefs had not changed, he’d been convinced by community feedback to give the industry “one last chance”.
So the industry survived but Baird didn’t. Three months later he walked out of Macquarie Street and into a job with NAB.
Now, with the March state election drawing steadily closer, greyhound racing is back in the news again with the Berejiklian government putting up $500,000 to help fund a million-dollar series of races that will culminate in a final at Wentworth Park in October. Although the industry says it has changed its ways, the government’s embrace has only helped to highlight the problems that exist with greyhound racing, even if the “blooding” of dogs through live-baiting has been stamped out as promised.
Wastage – the culling of unwanted dogs – was an enormous problem for the industry. Grey Racing NSW says it is committed to “drastically reducing” the numbers of healthy dogs being killed, but the McHugh report said that between 4000 and 5700 greyhounds were being put down in NSW each year.
Growing numbers of dogs are finding new homes, but they must surely still be in the minority. Charlestown couple Greg Murty and Carol Brett have had their dog, Bevan, for two years, but the charity he came from, Greyhound Rescue on Sydney’s North Shore, has 50 dogs in care at the moment, all in “desperate need” of foster care or adoption.
The two sides of the greyhound debate are unlikely to ever agree with each other, but the government’s sponsorship of the Million Dollar Chase puts the industry and its practices under the spotlight once again.
It will also provide an opportunity for the new Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission, which began operations on July 1, to show that is meaningfully improving this troubled branch of racing.